The Mouth Behind the Eye

By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  August 24, 2009

Item: last winter, after the Eye referred to Mrs. Pia Sawyer of Norma's own North Shore home town of Middleton as "a semi-socialite," these two otherwise congenial neighbors had it out the next time they met, at a party. Sawyer chose not to discuss the incident, saying of Norma, "She's not my favorite person." But Norma, without naming names, actually volunteers the story about the woman who "assaulted me at a party. She tackled me." And what did Norma do? "I kicked her in the shins," said the Middleton housewife, mother, and late-blooming journalist. "You can't let people get away with things like that. I only assault people who assault me."

Yes, Norma Nathan's reputation most definitely precedes her now - so much so that, as this reporter was questioning folks around town about her, the one overriding reaction that emerged was fear. "I frankly admit that I'm scared stiff of her and what she can do," said an otherwise tough and hard-nosed TV political reporter, one of many not-so-disinterested observers who insisted on not being quoted by name. Indeed, Paul Guzzi, who is now chief secretary to Governor King and who employed Norma Nathan as his press secretary for a year back when he was Secretary of State, elected not to talk about her at all, sending word through an intermediary that he'd been burned by her column before and that, frankly, he feared incurring Norma Nathan's legendary wrath. And then there's Steve Kinzer, who once authored this paper's "Don't Quote Me" column. Seems that, on one occasion, he quoted an unnamed State House source as saying that Norma had been making inquiries about who was sleeping with whom under the Golden Dome, a charge Norma heatedly denies. Now Kinzer claims that she has been viciously badmouthing him all over town ever since.

Kinzer, by the way, has lately been flying into and out of Nicaragua, reporting for the Globe, the Washington Post, and sundry national magazines on that country's bloody revolution. So you might conclude that he must be totally fearless. So you would be wrong. He's scared of Norma. "Once you get on her shit list you can't get off," he said. "I don't like it. The fact that she's out there."

Norma's turning on Kinzer was symptomatic, actually, of her outraged, heated, and hurt reaction to the overwhelmingly negative responses about town to the Eye's early offerings. "In the beginning, some very rough things were written about her, and she took it personally," said Rev. Richard Shmaruk, priest at the St. Camillus parish in Arlington and a long-time family friend, who had advised Norma to take the gossip job when it was offered and to treat it "as a fun thing, not a hurtful thing." Which, for the record, was more or less the Herald's original intention as well. "We wanted to start a classy or semi-classy gossip column, not a low or dirty one," remembers Harry King, who was then the paper's feature editor (he's now unemployed).

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